Murmur: Arctic Realities Makes International Debut

On Saturday, January 20, Mystic Seaport will host the international debut of an exhibition that heralds in a new era for the Museum — the Era of Exhibitions. Murmur: Arctic Realities is the product of one of world’s leading contemporary artists, John Grade, and with it, Mystic Seaport becomes a leader in the introduction of mixed reality technology in a museum setting. This exhibition showcases the Museum’s vision for engaging visitor experiences, a vision that will only expand throughout 2018 and beyond.

Staged in the Collins Gallery in the Thompson Exhibition Building, visitors will encounter upon entering what appears to be a natural land form — a mound (15’ x 38’ x 42’) intricately carved from Alaskan yellow cedar. This vast sculpture represents a pingo, a hill of ice that grows over centuries in the Arctic’s highest latitudes, then collapses, pockmarking the tundra. Grade’s work replicates a pingo in Alaska’s Noatak National Preserve, mapped by the artist using photogrammetry. Visitors will not only witness the pingo’s impressive scale, but will also be able to enter inside the sculpture as its walls open and close, mimicking the pingo’s life cycle at a time when this is accelerating due to unprecedented environmental change.

Grade and New Media artist Reilly Donovan are collaborating on Murmur, as Donovan brings the use of Microsoft’s HoloLens Mixed Reality technology to the experience. They have mapped fragments of Noatak’s landscape into the gallery so that visitors wearing a wireless HoloLens headset will see themselves within a holographic representation – one using visual images and spatialized sound of a precise geographic location 80 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

“The opening of Murmur is a thrilling moment for this museum,” says Nicholas Bell, senior vice president for curatorial affairs. “The inclusion of giant steel and wood kinetic arms and a holographic experience immediately removes us from our comfort zone. But that’s exactly where we should be as we enter this new Era of Exhibitions – challenging the limit of how we engage with museum space, and what we can learn from such unexpected encounters. Murmur affirms the role of Mystic Seaport as a place to come together, not only to understand our past, but also to anticipate the future.”

The title Murmur evokes both the sound of Arctic wind and the shapes made by flocks of Arctic birds in flight. The installation will provide an experience in which people can virtually explore the interior of a pingo’s ice core and the unusual textures, flora and fauna of the land form. By allowing visitors to traverse an Alaskan marsh in Connecticut, Murmur will revolutionize the public’s grasp of what a museum experience can be.

Murmur: Arctic Realities is being staged in collaboration with Anchorage Museum. Grade has been working on the pingo project for three years, after Anchorage Museum invited him to spend time in the Arctic as part of its Polar Lab residency program. According to his website, “Inspired by changing geological and biological forms and systems in the natural world, John works with his studio team to create large-scale site-specific immersive sculptural installations. Impermanence and chance are often central to the work along with kinetics and relationships between the natural world and architecture.”

Museum President Steve White notes that the opening of Murmur: Arctic Realities kicks off a busy and exciting year. “John Grade’s work speaks to our vision for exhibitions at Mystic Seaport,” White says, “to bring exhibitions to the Mystic region for which people would ordinarily have to travel far to see, and to provide content that appeals to people accustomed to compelling museum shows.”

Murmur, which closes in late April, is followed by two major exhibitions both opening on May 19: The Vikings Begin: Treasures from Uppsala University, Sweden and The Vinland Map. The international debut of The Vikings Begin will bring one of the world’s finest early Viking-age collections to Mystic Seaport. This exhibition represents the first instance most of these artifacts will have ever left Sweden. For the Vinland Map exhibition, it will be the first time in more than 50 years that the document is on public display, allowing those who have followed the saga to see its primary evidence for the first time. Mystic Seaport will engage historians, archaeologists, scientists, and other leading experts to share the Map’s story, and discuss its out-sized role in modern American history.

In addition to the exhibition itself, there are scheduled talks by both Grade and Donovan, the opportunity to take a yoga class with renowned instructor Coral Brown within the exhibition, and other programs related to the piece. Visit our online calendar for the full schedule. Use #wearethemurmur #arcticrealities on Twitter and Instagram.